Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy New Day!

It's seven minutes to 2016 as I start to write this. Odds are, I'll start this post in one year and finish it in the next. I'm thinking about how much weight we give to the new year. We look at it as a clean slate, a fresh start full of promise. We approach it with new resolve and great expectations. 
Looking back at 2015, it was a good year overall for me. There were good days, great days, and days I'd rather not remember. I know people who had it pretty rough this year. Loss of loved ones, cancer, marriages ending; sadness overshadow their memories of 2015. And I know others for whom 2015 was a "banner year", full of success and happiness at every turn. All in all, 2015 was 365 days of life. 
I think, as December 31 melts into January 1, I want to start with a new perspective. Rather than fill my mind with hopes for the next 365 days, I'm going to look at each day as a fresh start. Twenty four hours of promise. A day full of opportunities to show kindness, love my people, reach for my goals. No one knows how many days we have. There will be people who won't make it home from their New Year celebrations tonight - the ultimate irony. So I say, "Happy New Day!"  May we live each day that we have full of hope, and joy and love. 

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Christmas Star

This month, Jeff and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. The day Lizzie and I put up our Christmas tree, I thought about longevity as she placed the star on top of the tree. Jeff and I bought that star in New York City the year we got married 30 years ago. That first year, our tree was not much bigger than the star. The star towered above it, threatening to topple it over from its weight. 

As the years went by, our trees got bigger, and our star topped each tree every Christmas. After a while, it lost it's specialness. It was always there, a lot like our marriage...commonplace and easily taken for granted. 

One year, we plugged the star in, and nothing happened. No lights. I don't remember what else was going on that year, but we put the star aside and replaced it with another tree-topper. We didn't throw it away, but it wasn't important enough to work at fixing. Christmas came and went that year, and the star spent the holiday in its box. 
The next season came, and I expressed my sadness over the star. I didn't want some other topper, I wanted our star. Jeff saw how much it meant to me, and he fixed it. He had to somehow attach it to a short string of lights that plugged in to the tree's light system. I don't know exactly what he did, but by the time Lizzie and I had the rest of the tree trimmed, he came in with our star and plugged it in. All the extra lights made it shine even more brightly than ever!

Our marriage is very similar to our star. It's been there, constant, for 30 years. There have been a few seasons that we've ignored it, taken it for granted,
left it in the box. There was a time we almost threw the box in the trash. But when we realize how much we mean to each other and are willing to do the work, it shines more brightly than ever before. 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Night that Christmas Became Christmas

The Night That Christmas Became Christmas
by Ann Dunlap

The music and the madness
And the merriment of Christmas
Is so different than the dawning
Of Christmas long ago.
There was silence, there was stillness,
As the Savior came upon us
The night that Christmas became Christmas long ago.
The presents and the purchases
And the pageantry of Christmas
Leave an emptiness,
A longing in my soul.
For the wonder and the worship
And the winsomeness of Christmas,
Like there was the night that Christmas
Became Christmas long ago.
Oh be still, my soul, and listen
As the Heavens tell the story,
And creation shows
For all the world to know!
Hallelujah! Hail! Hosannah!
For Immanuel drew nigh,
The night that Christmas became
Christmas long ago.

Monday, March 9, 2015

A new hurdle...

Last week I had a routine mammogram. I wonder how many stories start out with those very same words? Anyway, I had actually forgotten about the mammogram until I received a call from their office today while I was at work. It seems that something "showed up" in my left breast. Some irregular, focal, dense, yada yada and some other words...the scheduler lost me after "something showed up". So I have "additional tests" scheduled for next week, and I am absolutely not supposed to worry about this at all. Obviously the scheduler doesn't know me. As much as I would prefer not to worry, it is physically impossible. I was born to a worrier. It's in my DNA. My track record stinks for health issues. I've already had thyroid cancer, and they say that women who have had thyroid cancer are much more likely to develop a second type of cancer within ten years.

Of course it doesn't help that this is coming at a time spiritual disconnect and relational turmoil with those with whom we were in fellowship. I want to trust God. I've had big talk over how easy it was to trust God in the past with all the other stuff. Maybe once I know for sure what's going on, the trust will happen. That saying from a dear old saint in CA rings true - "you don't need the ticket till it's time to get on the train."

I've been following the story of Kara Tippetts, author of The Hardest Peace, fairly closely. I want to have her courage and faith. I want to be around for a long time, especially in Lizzie's life. She needs me, and I love that. I want to meet that need well into her adulthood. And anyway, I could be hit by a bus tomorrow and never have to face the "additional tests" anyway...

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Beauty - Much Deeper than Skin

I recently finished reading a book called Glorious Opposite by Veronica Edmond. She contacted me while she was in the process of writing it, because of a blog post of mine that she read. The post was about scars, and how they can be ugly, but also can be a "sacred call to always remember" what God has brought you through. Veronica's book is all about her experience with breast cancer. The cancer and subsequent disfigurement were very difficult for her and her husband to face, and apparently my blog post encouraged her to see her scars differently.

I received an email from Veronica, and it included a devotional reading entitled You Are My True Beauty. It was very uplifting, and it prompted me to hit the Word to see what God says about true beauty. We're inundated with the world's ideas about beauty - women who are thin and voluptuous, dressed fashionably and bejeweled and bedazzled are all around us in magazines, on billboards, and some of them are even walking among us! Most Christian women would say that those women achieve a beauty that is only "skin deep". In 1 Peter chapter 3, I found that there is a beauty that goes much deeper than skin - it goes heart deep. "Do not let your adorning be external - the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear - but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious." Oh I just love it when the Bible gives us a clear definition of something! We see a contrast here between what people think is beautiful and what God thinks is beautiful.

We've all seen the contrast: a beautiful woman, impeccably dressed and made up, shoes and handbag matching, earrings and bracelets all coordinating, scented expensively and not a strand of hair misplaced. I remember secretly envying a woman just like that. I was on the bus to school. She stepped on and captivated my attention, even at 8AM! In just a split second, I knew I wanted to trade lives with her. And then it happened - she opened her mouth, and the image of beauty quickly flitted away, replaced with harshness and anger focused at the poor bus driver. There had been an accident, so he was ten minutes late arriving at her bus stop. She couldn't find her bus pass, so she was digging in her Coach purse for exact change, while the driver patiently waited. She fumed when she realized the bus was full and she would have to stand. "No one gives their seat up for a lady anymore," she huffed out. I wanted to retort, "maybe if they saw one, they would!" but I held my tongue. In that brief time, my beauty idol systematically erased all traces of her "skin deep" beauty and her true self was exposed. It was a self that was completely "me" centered.

Fortunately I've had the privilege of experiencing the opposite in the contrast. A woman, older, bald from chemo, dry skin covered with sores; barely was she able to lift her head, let alone consider makeup and clothing. Yet her quiet confidence in Christ shone brightly in her eyes, through her words. In her worst time, she was a fragrance of the knowledge of Christ to everyone who saw her. (2 Cor 2:14) This is my beauty idol! This is the makeover that I want!

We women all strive to be beautiful. We want those around us to think that we've got it all together and it looks good. We worry about what our friends, spouses and co-workers all think of us, when we really should be concerned with how God thinks of us. And He's provided us with His beauty tips! You won't find them in Glamour or Cosmo, though. You gotta hit the Word!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

You can keep your amazing grace if this is all it is!

Amazing grace, get off my back,
I can’t be good enough!
You’ve chosen me to be your child,
But man, this life is tough!

I used to be a lousy wretch,
With not a care of sin;
But since you’ve come to ransom me,
Oh how can I begin?

Church tells me how to live my life,
And how I can look good.
I must do things to measure up
To love you like I should.

I bring my tithes and go to church,
I never cut my hair;
I wear a dress, and drink no wine,
And try to never swear.

And then it happens, something gives ~
The congregations stares!
I’ve crossed the line unpardonable
I’ve let them see my cares.

They question my salvation now,
I must not be redeemed.
For I’m not living life just so,
I’m not all that I seemed.

If this is grace, I can’t hold up
Beneath this heavy weight!
I give it back, it can’t be mine –
My sin is far too great.

And now I’m lost more than before
I’ve nowhere left to turn
What’s great about this grace of yours
That’s free, and then you earn?

It’s no surprise – the world is watching Christians. We hear it all the time. Our lives our on display, and so we must portray the life of our Savior, Jesus. That’s become the goal of the institutional church in America. For years as a young Christian, I went to conferences, heard sermons and read books on how to be salt in a world bound for hell. I would “recommit” my life over and over. This time I’ll get it right – I’ll have a quiet time every morning, even though I’ve never been a morning person; I’ll tithe no matter what the checkbook says, so that I can see God’s amazing math; I’ll never decline an opportunity to serve the Lord – when the phone rings, I’ve got the word ‘Yes!’ ready on my lips. I will do all these things for two most important reasons. One, so that the world will see Jesus in me, and two, that I will live a life that pleases the Lord and shows Him gratitude for all He’s done for me.

I’ve done all those things. I’ve done them begrudgingly, despite myself, and not “with a happy heart”. And I’ve been discouraged, exhausted and overwhelmed. The world around me saw someone who was busy trying to be perfect. Yeah, I looked good on the outside, but inside I was a mess. This just didn’t feel like amazing grace! It felt like amazing work, amazing falsehood, but definitely not grace. Jesus said that His yoke is easy and His burden is light, but the burden that the church puts on its people makes Jesus seem like a liar! Is that what we want the world around us to think? We sing about being set free by amazing grace, but we live like we’re enslaved to conformity and good works.

Oh, but thankfully there is grace! There is abundant and free unmerited favor that flows from the cross of Calvary. It’s found all over the place in the Word of God. His yoke truly is easy, and His burden is light. The God of the Universe set the bar unattainably high. He purposed that no one but His Son could live His standard of perfection. And before the foundation of the world, He chose people to be His children – sinful, imperfect, wretched people whom He covered with the blood of Christ. Now there is nothing – NOTHING – that can ever change that! If I am a child of God, there is nothing I can ever do to make Him more pleased with me than He is already. He was pleased to choose me before He made the stars!

Imagine this: Billy’s mom is a multi-million dollar florist. Her business is world-wide and deals with exotic plants and flowers from every corner of the globe. She’s got access to the most beautiful flowers in the most stunning colors, right at her fingertips. Her home is filled with fresh flowers every day, her walls are covered in paintings of flowers. She is a sought after advisor to the First Lady, the Queen of England; everyone who’s anyone knows that if you want flowers, she’s your gal. Billy wakes up on Mother’s Day, and realizes he didn’t get his mom a gift, and he left his Mother’s Day class project on his desk at school. Billy loves his mom, and he just can’t disappoint her on this special day. He goes out into the backyard, and comes running in a few minutes later. His knees are dirty, he smells like sweaty little boy, but his face is all smiles. He’s got a fist full of dandelions for his mom! She loves her son. And even though she is the Florist Extraordinaire, her son brought her dandelions. She kneels down, gently puts her nose to the weeds, and with tears in her eyes tells Billy how much she loves him. He’s given her the best gift she’s ever received.

That’s God! What do we have to give Him that He hasn’t given us first? What do we have that He doesn’t already own? He certainly doesn’t need anything from us! But when we come to Him as children we touch His heart. When we treat Him as our beloved Abba, Daddy, we show Him that we understand grace. God doesn’t want our work. He wants our hearts. Anything that we could “do for God” is something God could certainly do for Himself. He doesn’t need our measly efforts to be good. He says that all our righteous acts are filthy rags! They’re dandelions in the beautiful garden of the Master Florist. Weeds that He has every right to pull up and burn! But instead He stoops down, takes our paltry expressions of love, and calls it sweet incense. It is only when we truly understand this amazing grace that a watching world will be drawn by curiosity to this Amazing God.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Asbestos Awareness Week!

I was recently made aware of this topic by a fellow cancer survivor and blogger. Asbestos is still a cancer-causing substance, and is still being used in places today. Asbestos Awareness Week is April 1-7 this year, so I'm posting this to help spread the word. For more information, you can visit this website:

http://www.mesothelioma.com/heather/awareness/


Thanks for reading!
Ann